I've just read Charles Foster's book The Selfless Gene: Living with God and Darwinin which Foster argues that it "is simply not possible to demonstrate either that natural selection has in fact produced everything that we see in the natural world, or that it could have done." Instead there is "plenty of room for other complexity generators" with Foster arguing that one of these has been "the force of community, of altruism, of selflessness" which has consistently "been at work moulding the shape of the biological world." How, he asks, could "selfish natural selection have allowed even apparent altruism to start in the first place"? Perhaps, he suggests, "there was a good force seeding it and inhibiting the usually unswerving efficiency of the selfish stamper."
Alongside his examination of evolution Foster also interprets the Genesis creation stories. His conclusion here is that, if we want to look for an historical Adam and Eve, we look among the "anatomically modern but behaviourally naive Homo sapiens" of Africa and the Levant who existed alongside the Neanderthals:
"Just like the biblical Adam and Eve, they had an abrupt change. Something non-anatomical but profound happened to them which transmuted dramatically the whole way that they looked at themselves, at one another and at the world; which gave them self-consciousness, a fear of death and a taste for bangles; which catapulted their society and the world ito a catastrophic sophistication."
All this has considerable synergy with an argument which I put forward in relation to one of the essays at NTMTC. There I argued that the Biblical creation stories are myth in terms of their literary genre but functioned as history for the Hebrew peoples using them following their first tellings. Their historical usage and roots cannot, therefore, be overlooked in our understanding and use of them. Ernest Lucas, for example, notes in Wonders of Creation that:
“The story of the Garden of Eden certainly has its roots in history. It is not just an imaginative fairy tale. Genesis 4 tells of a descendent of Adam called Tubal-Cain, who was the first person to use metal to make things. This means that Adam must have used only stone implements. Genesis 2 tells us that Adam was a gardener and that he tamed animals. All this adds up to a picture of Adam as what we would call a ‘New Stone Age man’.
Now, as far as Europe and the Near East is concerned, the New Stone Age began around 8,000 BC in the upland plateaux of Turkey, and then spread into Mesopotamia, Palestine and Europe. What is interesting is that the Bible places the Garden of Eden in the area where the New Stone Age culture first arose. From the second chapter of Genesis it seems that Eden was at the place where the Tigris and Euphrates rise – which is in the upland plateaux of Turkey. In addition the word ‘Eden’ may come from a Babylonian word meaning ‘plateaux’.”
The key word in Lucas’ analysis of the historical basis for the Genesis stories is probably ‘culture’. If Lucas is right in locating stories of Eden in the New Stone Age then what he is doing is locating them at the launch point for cultural evolution. This is the point in history when human beings begin, by a combination of social organisation (sociality) and individual creativity (development), to extract ourselves from dominance by the processes of biological evolution and to impose our culture onto nature itself (the domination of which Genesis 1 speaks).
The creation stories, history and science could all agree that this is the first point in history at which human beings essentially could have a choice about how we behaved ethically. Prior to this point human beings had been hunters, migrants dependent on the movements of their prey and participants in the natural ‘kill or be killed’ processes of a nature that is “red in tooth and claw”. However, as human beings developed agriculturally and socially, the killing of animals and other human beings was no longer essential. In fact, the logic of human culture is towards co-operation not opposition. Gerd Theissen has argued that:
“… cultural evolution replaces 1. chance mutations and recombinations through innovations, which are a priori aimed at the solution of certain problems, but which in a wider context still occur ‘blindly’. It replaces 2. selection through ‘reinforcement’, which is recalled, perceived and anticipated – i.e. through a ‘selection’ in human imagination which anticipates the external pressure of selection and makes it less harsh. It replaces 3. genetic transmission with tradition, which draws on individual experience and therefore can be modified by it – and which nevertheless often takes place mechanically as ‘inheritance’.”
Theissen’s thesis in Biblical Faith: An Evolutionary Approach is that cultural evolution transcends biological evolution as a result of the intervention of human consciousness which gives direction to the process. If this is so, then “cultural evolution represents a reduction of selection – i.e. an evolution of principles of evolution – protest against the harshness of the pressure of selection through the deliberate action and thought of human beings can be recognized as an obligation which is ‘pre-programmed’ into the structure of reality and which no one can escape who wants to accord with ultimate reality” .
The biblical creation stories locate the imago dei in the ability of human beings to be both consciously and directedly social and creative. The result is that human culture is seen as the means by which the universe is developed and perfected. To do this, human beings need to work against what the story calls the effects of the Fall i.e. biological evolution. From the New Stone Age onwards it was possible for humans to do so. As we can see from examining human sociality and creativity, this is not what human beings have chosen to do.
Looking first at sociality, three levels of relationality have been noted by Daniel Hardy, in his essay ‘Creation and Eschatology’ in The Doctrine of Creation, with the third being a definition of sociality:
• identity through dissociation: “varied spacio-temporalities of existent beings assign them varying stability and direction, and this constitutes their identities as different from each other, which their mobility and energy varyingly allow them to move freely as dissociated from others: they are themselves (identity) through dissociation (difference)”;
• coexistence: “the same features of [existent beings] may … lead them to acknowledge comparable features in others, and make suitable allowance for them. In such cases, there is co-ordinate spatio-temporality, the basis of coexistence”;
• directed choice of others: “identity (stability and direction combined with mobility and energy) arises through the conferral of recognition and scope for positive freedom upon others as others. In such situations, the ultimate form is dedicated spacio-temporality, where identity is a consistent, directed choice of others and a movement toward them through which they are identified as themselves and honoured as such – to which they respond in trust … [t]he theological term for such a dedicated spatio-temporality … is election, and the result covenant”.
The logic of cultural evolution and the biblical creation stories is that human beings should operate at level three. However, biological evolution and most human behaviour remains stuck in a combination of levels one and two. Chris Mitchell explains, in ‘Homo Ethicus?’, an article in Third Way, that biologists “recognise three different types of altruism: ‘reciprocal altruism’ (as in the Prisoner’s Dilemma ), ‘kin selection’ (which gives help to individuals who are genetically related), and ‘signalling’, which is the apparently selfless behaviour of unrelated individuals to indicate their status to future mates” . Mitchell comments that the “biological imperative is “Save yourself!””
Looking next at creativity, Brian Horne has argued (drawing on the work of Arthur Koestler and Martin Buber), in his The Doctrine of Creation essay ‘Divine and human creativity’, that “the act of [human] creation is a ‘relational event which takes place between two entities that have gone apart from one another’” . Koestler uses the word ‘biosociative’ to describe the connection of “previously unconnected matrices of experience” . For these three, this “capacity to make something new, to bring about objects and situations that were ‘not there’ previously, by an act, at once intuitive and intellectual, of discovering the possibility of connecting hitherto disparate matrices of experience, is both distinctively and intrinsically human” .
Horne suggests that biosociative acts are:
“acts which release us from the kind of determinism which is characteristic of the natural order, that is, of purely animal existence. To put a theological gloss on this we might say that in the non-human world (the natural order) creatures are simply what their appearance shows them as being: they are determined, without choice; they glorify God by being only themselves in their instinctive behaviour. In the human world it is different: there is freedom to choose, to act in certain ways which are willed and which may result in a creativity that will glorify God.”
Horne cites both:
• the Eastern Orthodox tradition - “Man has been called a demi-urge, not only to contemplate the beauty of the world, but also to express it” ; and
• the Western Liberal tradition - “Art does three things: it expresses, it transforms, it anticipates. It expresses man’s fear of the reality he discovers. It transforms ordinary reality in order to give the power of expressing something which is not itself. It anticipates possibilities of being which transcend the given possibilities”
to argue that human creativity involves the development of possibilities inherent within the creation. Here Horne quotes Paul Tillich - “Man stands between the finite he is and the infinite to which he belongs and from which he is excluded. So he creates symbols of his infinity.” – to argue that what “is created is not being itself, but symbols of being, or rather signs of new creative activity (not only in the fine arts) as a power ‘to carry on the creation of the world and anticipate its transfiguration’”.
The universe as we know it is basically deterministic – it develops naturally according to a network of inter-related elements and processes by which successful characteristics are generationally and genetically selected and replicated. Although deterministic, it is not simplistic - “there is neither order which is not to a degree chaotic, nor chaos that is not to a degree orderly” . Human beings are a part of these determined but complex processes but can also exercise a degree of freedom from them, through sociality and creativity, within the constraints of finitude. In exercising this degree of freedom we seem to be faced with two possibilities:
a) we can use this freedom in the way suggested by biological evolution i.e. we can use it selfishly utilising it to maximise the possibilities for human survival. This can involve both exploitation of and/or co-operation with ‘others’ (whether human or non-human) but always on the basis of the best outcome for ourselves. To do so, is to operate at levels one and two in Hardy’s three levels of relationality; or
b) we can use this freedom to identify the essential nature of all that is ‘other’ (both human and non-human) than us and develop the possibilities of those ‘others’ in line with their essential nature. To do so, is to: act within the image of God; operate at level three in Hardy’s three levels of relationality; fulfil the logic of cultural evolution; and create an act of worship, as God is praised in and by the perfecting of his creation.
Finally, living in the way outlined at b) is a form of evolution that does not have to involve death. This is a point noted by both Dorothy L. Sayers and Theissen. Sayers states that:
“The components of the material world are fixed; those in the world of the imagination increase by a continuous and irreversible process, without any destruction … of what went before. This represents the nearest approach we experience to ‘creation out of nothing’ and we conceive the act of absolute creation as being an act analogous to that of the creative artist.”
While Theissen says that one of the new things in cultural evolution is “that patterns of behaviour can be given up or changed without the death or extinction of those involved in them. Human beings can change their mind. They can be ‘converted’ to the better when they see that the way in which they are behaving will lead to disaster”
John Barton, in People of the Book?, provides an excellent summary of Theissen's Biblical Faith: An Evolutionary Approach. Barton says that Theissen "believes fully in random selection. But he argues that from time to time the human race shows itself capable of what he calls 'evolution against evolution'. At such moments the inherent selfishness of genetic and biological development (as described, for instance, by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene) goes mysteriously into reverse, and altruism arises. Altruism is a move against selection and towards the protection, instead of the destruction and elimination, of the weak ... Theissen maintains that we can see this happening in two highly distinctive phases of human religious history:
in the increasingly monotheistic faith of ancient Israel, and in the life, teaching and death of Jesus of Nazareth. In an evolutionary perspective religion has often been simply one of the social mechanisms by which control, and hence the continued survival of the strong, is established; but in these two cases religion takes an unprecedented turn, and becomes instead an agency of healing for the wounded. In the religion of the prophets, and in the religious commitment for which Jesus lived and died, we see the distillation of faith in a God who is on the side of the down-trodden rather than their oppressors, and who seeks to bring a new, supernatural order of justice and peace out of the natural laws of selection and mutilation that spell death for the weak and powerless ... "In the midst of history a possible 'goal' of evolution is revealed: complete adaptation to the reality of God"."
I think that Theissen's thesis also has synergies with the ideas of René Girard who begins his explanation of the dynamic of scapegoating by postulating the ‘mimetic of desire’, which is basically a kind of jealousy, but with a twist: we learn what is desirable by observing what others find desirable. Having ‘caught’ our desires from others, in a context of scarcity, everyone wants what only some can have (i.e. survival of the fittest). This results in a struggle to obtain what we want - which in turn produces a generalised antagonism towards the individual or group that seems to be responsible for this disappointment.
The vicious riddance of the victim has the potential to reduce the eagerness for violence, and if not, then the assumption is that more scapegoats need to be sacrificed in order to achieve a sense of appeasement and restoration of the status quo. The removal of the victim or victims – the lambs to the slaughter, gives a temporary re-assurance of the crisis disappearing, and the sensation of renewed possibility. This is a description of cheap solidarity and cheap hope.
Girard concludes his anthropological and literary analysis of scapegoating by examining Judeo-Christian texts, and traces the movement away from the dynamic of scapegoating through the Old into the New Testaments. It was this experience that contributed to Girard’s conversion to the Christian faith. His analysis of the Bible ‘as literature’ led him to conclude:
that Jesus is the final scapegoat (i.e. in Theissen's terms the evolution against evolution or in Foster's selflessness against selfishess);
the New Testament is ‘on the side of’ Jesus, the scapegoat. The Gospels are unusual because here is literature that encourages people to see the world through the eyes of the scapegoat;
the scapegoat in the Gospels refuses to let death be the final word and he rises again triumphant; and
the followers of the scapegoat enact the seizing of the scapegoat, and the scapegoat’s triumph over death, in Eucharistic celebration.
All this is by way of suggesting that Foster's thesis finds support elsewhere which both strengthens and broadens the argument. Foster, I think, sees selflessness as a force alongside selfishness within evolution rather than the evolution against evolution for which Theissen argues.
I have recently started a new blog called Renegotiating 'value' which has been set up as a discussion space for a seminar series exploring the benefit and challenge of faith traditions in leading sustainable businesses.
Stakeholder vs shareholder value exploring who it is that businesses are/should be accountable to and the difference this makes to their structure and operation. Speakers: tbc. Date: tbc. Venue: tbc.
Cost: £5.00 per seminar. For seminar 1 registration is online here or by phoning 020 7496 1610. For seminars 2 & 3 phone 020 8599 2170 or email email@example.com. Further publicity will be added once the details of seminar 3 are finalised.
“The great composer Ludwig Van Beethoven use sometimes to play a trick on polite salon audiences, especially when he guessed that they weren’t really interested in serious music. He would perform a piece on the piano, one of his own slow movements perhaps, which would be so gentle and beautiful that everyone would be lulled into thinking the world was a soft, cosy place, where they could think beautiful thoughts and relax into semi-slumber. Then, just as the final notes were dying away, Beethoven would bring his whole forearm down with a crash across the keyboard, and laugh at the shock he gave to the assembled company.” (LUKE for everyone, Tom Wright)
In reflecting on this story, Tom Wright suggests that:
“there may come a time when Christian teachers and preachers find, like Beethoven with his salon audiences, that people have become too cosy and comfortable. Sometimes, for instance, the selections of Bible readings for church services omit all the passages that speak of judgement, of warnings, of the stern demands of God’s holiness. Maybe there are times when, like Jesus himself on this occasion, we need to wake people up with a crash. There are, after all, plenty of warnings in the Bible about the dangers of going to sleep on the job.”
What Jesus says Luke 12. 49-59 about coming to bring division instead of peace seems a lot like Beethoven’s crash across the keyboard which is designed to wake everyone up. It certainly seems like that for us. After all, Jesus is the Prince of Peace isn’t he? The one who brought peace between humanity and God, and also between Jew and Gentile, through his death on the cross? That’s what the Bible tells us about him isn’t it? That’s how we think about Jesus! Yet here he is saying, “Prince of Peace, eh? No. Prince of Division, more likely!”
Sometimes, we need the piano crash to wake us up to reality and Jesus is never less than real! Here he confronts us with the reality that once the good news about him gets into households there’ll be no peace and families will split up over it.
We have our own example of this reality at St John's Seven Kings at the moment. A parishioner was baptised here in March as a sign of his earlier conversion from Islam. He has experienced persecution from friends and acquaintances as a result and received threats of harm from his family if he were to return to Pakistan. Despite this, he has spent the months between his baptism and last week when he was able to return to St Johns, in Immigration Detention Centres because the UK Border Agency has refused his asylum claim and want him sent back to Pakistan. He is only here because the High Court have agreed to a Judicial Review of the decision made by the UK Border Agency.
So, as we reflect on the reality and pressures of division that can result from hearing and responding to the good news of Jesus Christ, let us pray for success for this person in that High Court Judicial Review which is still to come and for a greater acknowledgement by our Government of the reality of persecution for those who choose to convert from Islam to Christianity and of those who live as Christians in countries where persecution from those of other faiths or none because of their beliefs is commonplace.
Jesus was real about the reality of division and wants us to be too; to anticipate it, to acknowledge it, to face it, to deal with it. It is after all, what the prophets foretold as:
“The warnings he gives about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and so on includes a quotation from Micah 7.6, a passage in which the prophet warns of imminent crisis and urges that the only way forward is complete trust in God.”
Jesus sees a crisis coming for those to whom he speaks; a crisis of which his own fate will be the central feature. He will be rejected and killed but will rise from death before ascending to his Father and sending his Holy Spirit on all who follow him. His validity as the Son of God will then be clearly confirmed when his prophecy about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem comes true in AD 70.
Jesus knows that all this is about to come and “is astonished and dismayed that so few of his contemporaries can see it at all”:
“why can’t they look at what’s going on all around them, from the Roman occupation to the oppressive regime of Herod, from the wealthy and arrogant high priests in Jerusalem to the false agendas of the Pharisees – and, in the middle of it all, a young prophet announcing God’s kingdom and healing the sick? Why can’t they put two and two together, and realize that this is the moment all Israel’s history has been waiting for? Why can’t they see that the crisis is coming?
If they could, they would be well advised to take action while there was still time.”
“Israel, rebelling against God’s plan that she should be the light of the world, and thus eager for violent uprising against Rome,” was liable at any moment to face the complete ruin that finally arrived in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem.
“The church has from early on read this chapter as a warning that each generation must read the signs of the times, the great movements of people, governments, nations and policies, and react accordingly.” And, if we find ourselves caught up in crisis, so be it. What else should we expect?
Except that we don’t currently expect it because the church in the West, like the rest of our consumerist culture has become cosy and comfortable and in need of waking up to harsh reality. What are the signs of our times? Here are a few from the national press over the past two weeks:
• former Bank of England rate-setter, William Butler, now chief economist at the investment banking giant Citigroup, saying that, “We lived beyond our means year after year, and the nation collectively has to consume less.”
• the number of people suffering from the massive floods in Pakistan exceeds 13 million — more than the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the United Nations said Monday. The suffering of people in Pakistan comes alongside the landslides in China also caused by heavy rains which seem part of a worldwide pattern of climate change affecting the poorest nations hardest of all.
Overconsumption in the West, the long-term effect of pollutants on our climate, the peaking of energy supplies, the rise of viruses resistant to medication are combining to create a point of crisis which is directed particularly at those, such as the 13 million in Pakistan, who are the poorest and most vulnerable in our world.
If we are to read the signs of our times accurately, then we need firstly to respond with generosity to funding appeals for relief in Pakistan, China, the Niger and wherever natural disasters occur in future. But we also need to review the underlying causes and the need for a radical simplifying of our Western way of life and seeing that “the inevitable and profound changes ahead can have a positive outcome … [leading] to the rebirth of local communities, which will grow their own food, generate their own power, and build their own houses using local materials.” (The Transition Handbook)
Last year at St John's Seven Kings thought about division and crisis through our Dealing with disagreement Bible Studies which introduced us to the idea of peak oil. In September, we have the opportunity to consider these issues further through a trip to Mersea Island where we will hear from Sam Norton, the Rector of Mersea Island, who has regularly blogged about the coming impact of peak oil. I urge us all to think seriously about the underlying causes of our contemporary crisis, praying for those in Pakistan, China and the Niger currently caught up in the effects of that crisis and for those dealing with the reality of division as a consequence of their faith.
Christopher writes that the motivation for the site was driven by his own work and interest in 'religious art' and because he believes "religious consciousness is nothing other then the indication of the new creative attitude of man towards the world" (to quote Tolstoy). He writes:
"I think that any new religious consciousness will be expressed through the arts, the problem being we may not yet know what it will be like or look like, it may not even at the moment be recognized as religion or religious, so I wanted to show examples of work that might (or might not) be part of this development. if that makes sense."
By religion he means matters of ultimate concern: "Religion means being ultimately concerned, asking the question of "to be or not to be" with respect to the meaning of one’s existence, and having symbols in which this question is answered. This is the largest and most basic concept of religion. And the whole development, not only of modern art but also of existentialism in all its realms -- and that means of the culture of the twentieth century -- is only possible if we understand that this is fundamentally what religion means: being ultimately concerned about one’s own being, about one’s self and one’s world, about its meaning and its estrangement and its finitude." Paul Tillich, Existentialist Aspects of Modern Art
"Religion, like Art," he suggests, "is not about propounding doctrines, it’s not about what’s lawful or unlawful but about playfulness and creativity. Making art reconciles conflicting forces within us. The 'Religious' is found in the least expected places."
As such Modern Religious Art displays and encourages and the work of contemporary artists who are in some way motivated by or engaged with the religious. The site is not prescriptive of any particular belief system, it may contain contributions from artists who follow a particular faith but also artists of no faith or creed, and there will be those who consider themselves atheists, religious humanists, humanists, or agnostic. As the site is fairly new, Christopher has been searching out artists himself but he hopes more artists will start to find the site and he will start to find artists for the site that way.
Currently there are 11 artists featured on the site, including Christopher himself, and their work includes digital art, film, installation, painting, photography and sculpture. I particularly appreciated Tony O'Connell's photographs of everyday people as saints and Kate Pickering's performance and text based works which make "use of the language of religion to both examine and undo art world norms and assumptions."
Seven Kings St John
1908 2l (lights) L Davis
1931 2l Baptistry incl John Coakes, Hogan
1938 2l Baptistry incl Joan of Arc JH, JHH, Board E'
Roy Albutt writes that:
“The 1908 window, which I take to refer to the Nativity window, was designed by L. Davis. Louis B. Davis worked for Powell's from 1898 to 1909. He was an important Arts and Crafts stained glass artist. His windows at Dunblane Cathedral, Stirling are stunning, some of the most impressive stained glass I have seen. Davis trained with Christopher Whall, THE Arts and Crafts maker and teacher from c. 1893 until he moved to Powell's.”
Louis B.Davis was born and grew up in Abingdon. During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries he became known as a talented watercolourist, a playwright, book illustrator and above all a distinguished glass artist, continuing his work in the tradition of the Arts and Crafts movement. When referring to the splendidly translucent, glowing colours Davis loved so much, as evidenced in his windows at Cheltenham College chapel, Nikolaus Pevsner identified him as the last of the Pre-Raphaelites.
The obituary of Davis in the Abingdon Parish Magazine noted that ‘His colour and design satisfy the sense of beauty, and the actual craftsmanship will always be a wonder to those who understand the art of glass-making.’ The Times obituary commented: ‘Mr Davis may be said to have inherited the side of the pre-Raphaelite movement which was concerned with medieval glamour and Celtic twilight rather than with the method of fidelity to nature... Davis was so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of his school that he used all its devices and mannerisms with an easy, natural skill, and the sentiment of his pictures never seemed forced or affected...’
Among Davis’ most important work, in a distinctive Arts and Crafts style, was his scheme for glazing the choir windows at Dunblane Abbey (1913); several windows in the chapel of the Order of the Thistle at St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh; glasswork at Colmonell Church in Ayrshire; Paisley Abbey; Wemyss Castle; St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin and Welbeck Abbey. He also decorated the private chapels of the Marquess of Londonderry at Wynyard Park, County Durham and the Duchess of Bedford at Woburn Abbey. In southern England examples of Davis's work can be found at Littlemore Church, Oxford (1900); Abingdon School Chapel (1924, inserted 1952); Barton Hartshorn Church near Bicester; Foxley Church, Wiltshire (1901); Stoke Poges Church, Buckinghamshire (1899); St Silas's Church, Kentish Town, London (1900) and at Pinner (1900) and Hatch End Churches (1903–1932) in Middlesex. At All Saints' church, Longstanton, Cambridgeshire a depiction of Faith, Hope and Charity (1938) re-uses the figure of Hope from St Silas's Church.
After 1917-18 Thomas Cowell (1870-1949) played a significant part in re-working or adapting earlier designs by Davis. Cowell was for many years the principal glass-painter for James Powell & Sons who translated Davis’s designs and cartoons into stained glass.
The Christ and St John windows were A.F. Coakes and James Hogan, while Hogan was also involved in designing the St Agnes and St Joan of Arc windows, together with E. Board. All were also Whitefriars designers.
The most enduring and successful glasshouse in Britain, the Whitefriars Company made stained glass, table and ornamental glass, and scientific glass. It had a reputation for innovative design and retained an identity distinct from that of other British glass making centres. There are Whitefriars windows reflecting the glory of God in cathedrals and churches all over the world - from St. Paul's Cathedral, London, to St. Thomas's, New York; from Wellington Cathedral, New Zealand, to the great twentieth-century Anglican Cathedral of Liverpool, and village churches throughout the shires of England.
In 1720, a glasshouse was established on part of the site of the former medieval 'White Friars' monastery, situated south of Fleet Street. The factory really came into its own when James Powell a London wine merchant and entrepreneur, purchased the factory in 1834, the idea was to give his three sons a viable occupation. The Powell’s were related to Baden Powell, the Scout Movement founder.
The Powell’s were initially ignorant of the art of glass making, but by necessity soon acquired the skills needed and adapted and improved upon the new technologies of the industrial revolution. A Victorian barrister and archaeologist, Charles Winston, the authority for cathedral and church window restoration, had investigated the properties of medieval stained-glass, analysing the colouring agents used in the Middle Ages. He persuaded Powell to produce such glasses. By 1854 they were experimenting with the chemical mixes to achieve mediaeval coloured glass [quarries] for Winston. This innovation set them up as leaders in the field when hundreds of new Victorian churches were being built across the country and indeed the world.
Through Winston’s recommendation Powell was supplying Edward Burne-Jones with stained glass muff with the right mix of air bubbles and brilliant natural colours to match mediaeval glass. Soon Powell was commissioning cartoons from Edward Burne-Jones, Henry Holiday, Anning Bell, Edward Poynter, Ford Maddox Brown and George Cattermole. During the later portion of the 19th century the Powell’s became closely associated with leading architects and designers notably T G Jackson, Edward Burne Jones, William De Morgan and James Doyle. Not to mention Philip Webb who designed glass for William Morris that was manufactured by Whitefriars. By the late 1850’s the firm’s attention began to include designs and production of domestic table glass after manufacturing glass for William Morris's revolutionary Red House.
James Crofts Powell, his cousin, ran the stained glass department from 1876 using in-house designers and famous artists like Burne-Jones for important commissions. Under Crofts Powell the stained glass department did traditional work but also developed mosaic techniques to the Byzantine standards of Ravenna. His opus sectile mosaics were tilted to deflect the light and gained sufficient credit to be used by William Blake Richmond in his work at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The 'Whitefriars' trade name was added only in 1919, four years before the firm relocated from the City to a new site at Wealdstone, Harrow. In 1973 the Whitefriars Company closed its stained glass studio, and came under increasing financial pressure. When the company closed in 1980, the Museum of London acquired its archive of business papers, photographs, designs and pictures; some manufacturing tools and equipment; the contents of the glassworks' museum; and examples of the factory's final products.
This information will now be added to that included in our local Church Art Trail and will be of particular interest because our neighbouring parish of St Paul's Goodmayes also have several Whitefriars windows.
Through the Imaging the Bible in Wales website I found a new website about Harry Clarke (1889 to 1931) who is reckoned to be Ireland’s greatest stained glass artist. During his short life Clarke created stained glass windows for churches, private dwellings and commercial venues throughout Ireland and England, and as far a field as the USA and Australia. In total 160 windows, and a small number of panels, were created by Clarke. Also an illustrator of books for Harrap and Co. in London, Clarke illustrated five books that show his undoubted genius in the area of graphic art.
I first came across his work in The Crucifixion in Irish Art. Now though a monograph, Strangest Genius, has been published which is unique in that it contains the entire stained glass collection of Clarke, including those windows now in art galleries. This collection has never before been photographed or published in its entirety. This publication will give those who are unfamiliar with the brilliance and originality of Clarke’s marvellous stained glass windows the opportunity to view images of his greatest creations, and perhaps in time to travel to see these wonders for themselves.
He writes that much of the new research was from places of worship in Wales, but they also did look at fine artists whose work is held in museum collections. One of the things which struck him was the number of twentieth century artists whose religious work has been almost totally overlooked by most commentators (not that there are a vast number of art historians working in Wales). Often these religious themes stemmed from their personal faith, something which again was not well known.
Welsh life and culture has been inextricably bound to the Bible, evident in the vast array of visual expressions of biblical themes found throughout the principality. However, such visual expressions are fast disappearing as churches, chapels and synagogues, often their original and only location, fall into disuse. Therefore this urgent project (focussed on 1825–1975), analysed the social, political and theological questions raised by Welsh biblical visual culture so that its contribution to the intellectual, artistic and cultural heritage of Wales can be recognized and preserved.
Biblical Art in Walesis a lavishly illustrated book with 17 contributors drawn from the world of Biblical Studies, Art History and Social & Cultural History which is another outcome from the project. The book contains analyses of the material discussed at two major project conferences (September 2006 and April 2008) as well as contextual information from a number of additional authoritative commentators.
Throughout Wales, the Bible has been interpreted and illustrated in a surprisingly wide range of media: in paint and sculpture, needlework and ceramic, woodcarving and engraving. The illustrations in the book (some 300 of which are in colour) include examples from several media and demonstrate how the process of ‘visual exegesis’ was an important feature of religious and cultural life in Wales in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The volume is accompanied by a DVD, written and produced by Crampin with the Project Research Fellow Dr John Morgan-Guy, which adds a further interpretative dimension. It contains over 600 images and allows the reader to explore further subjects introduced in the book, arranged and structured as seven key representative themes such as Word and Image, the Bible in the Welsh Landscape, Domestic Piety, and so on.
I was tagged with this meme by Paul Trathen. The interest of memes is found in the diversity of responses generated, so this is my attempt to add to the variety:
1. State briefly what you believe about the Bible.
I believe that the Bible was inspired by God in its content and form. It reveals God within the limitations of human language, genres and imagery and through a collage-like form.
2. How is the Bible inspired?
People were inspired when, out of their conversation with God through prayer, their scriptures, other people and the natural world, they shared stories, experiences and insights reflecting on the nature and actions of God. Others, recognising the authenticity of what had been shared, either passed on, wrote down or collated them building up a canon of scriptures in the process.
3. So is the book of Judges inspired, or only the Gospels?
The whole of the Bible is inspired.
4. How is the Bible authoritative?
N.T. Wright describes the Bible as being like a five act play containing the first four acts in full (i.e. 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Israel, 4. Jesus). He writes that:
"The writing of the New Testament ... would then form the first scene in the fifth act, and would simultaneously give hints (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end ... The church would then live under the 'authority' of the extant story, being required to offer an improvisatory performance of the final act as it leads up to and anticipates the intended conclusion ... the task of Act 5 ... is to reflect on, draw out, and implement the significance of the first four Acts, more specifically, of Act 4 in the light of Acts 1-3 ... Faithful improvisation in the present time requires patient and careful puzzling over what has gone before, including the attempt to understand what the nature of the claims made in, and for, the fourth Act really amount to."
Wright concludes that he is proposing "a notion of "authority" which is ... vested ... in the creator god himself, and this god's story with the world, seen as focused on the story of Israel and thence on the story of Jesus, as told and retold in the Old and New Testaments, and as still requiring completion."
5. Is the Bible a human book?
Yes. It is a revelation of God in and through the oral histories, writings, and canonizations of human beings expressed within the limitations of human language, genres and imagery.
6. Are there aspects of the Bible that are not divine?
The Bible is not divine. Only God is divine. As Paul Trathen wrote in his answer to this meme: “The Bible is never to be allowed to become an idol. The ‘words of God’ are of a lesser-order than the Word of God, God-as-man, in the person of Jesus Christ.”
7. Why do you call the Bible a conversation?
Walter Brueggemann suggests that the Bible has both “a central direction and a rich diversity” which means “that not all parts will cohere or agree” although it has a “central agenda.” The Bible is, therefore, structured like a good conversation with a central thread but many topics and diversions. Brueggemann emphasises that “the Bible is not an “object” for us to study but a partner with whom we may dialogue.” In the image of God, he says, “we are meant for the kind of dialogue in which we are each time nurtured and called into question by the dialogue partner.” It is the task of Christian maturing, he argues, “to become more fully dialogical, to be more fully available to and responsive to the dialogue partner”:
“… the Bible is not a closed object but a dialogue partner whom we must address but who also takes us seriously. We may analyze, but we must also listen and expect to be addressed. We listen to have our identity given to us, our present way called into question, and our future promised to us.”
8. What do you believe about canonization?
That those involved in canonization were also inspired by God is the way described above.
9. Do you reject the inspiration of some books?
I assume you mean books of the Bible, in which case my answer would be, no.
10. Anything else you want to say?
The Bible is the record of the dialogue in which God and humanity find one another. Jesus says in John 8: 28 that he speaks just what the Father has taught him and in John 11: 42 that the Father always hears him. These two verses indicate that Jesus and the Father are in a constant dialogue or conversation. Stephen Verney called this the ‘Dance of Love’, into which we are invited to enter:
“”I can do nothing”, [Jesus] said, “except what I see the Father doing”. If he lays aside his teaching robes and washes the feet of the learners … it is because he sees his Father doing it. God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, is like that; he too lays aside his dignity and status as a teacher. He does not try to force his objective truth into our thick heads, but he gives himself to us in acts of humble service; he laughs with us and weeps with us, and he invites us to know him in our hearts through an interaction and an interplay between us. It is this knowledge that Jesus has received from the Father, and in the to and fro of this relationship he and the Father are one. They need each other. That is the pattern of how things potentially are in the universe, and of how God means them to be”.
Mike Riddell has noted therefore that “Jesus represents the essence of God’s desire to communicate with humanity.” Jesus is “the self-communication of God. This is why he is ‘the Word of God’ and is why Erasmus, in his 1516 translation of the New Testament, translated ‘logos’ as ‘Conversation’ not ‘Word’:
“It all arose out of a conversation, conversation within God, in fact the conversation was God. So God started the discussion, and everything came out of this, and nothing happened without consultation.
This was the life, life that was the light of men, shining in the darkness, a darkness which neither understood nor quenched its creativity.
John, a man sent by God, came to remind people about the nature of the light so that they would observe. He was not the subject under discussion, but the bearer of an invitation to join in.
The subject of the conversation, the original light, came into the world, the world that had arisen out of his willingness to converse. He fleshed out the words but the world did not understand. He came to those who knew the language, but they did not respond. Those who did became a new creation (his children). They read the signs and responded.
These children were born out of sharing in the creative activity of God. They heard the conversation still going on, here, now, and took part, discovering a new way of being people.
To be invited to share in a conversation about the nature of life was for them, a glorious opportunity not to be missed.” (John 1: 1-14 revisited)
The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, notes that conversations with God characterise the relationships of those closest to him:
“Abraham says: God, why did you abandon the world? God says to Abraham: Why did you abandon Me? And there then begins that dialogue between Heaven and Earth which has not ceased in 4,000 years. That dialogue in which God and Man find one another.”
“Only thus,” Sacks says, “can we understand the great dialogues between God and Abraham and Moses and Jeremiah and Job.” The Bible is the record of these dialogues.
11. Is your theology “inconsistent?”
God has not chosen to communicate with us systematically instead his communication is diverse and diffuse - creation, incarnation, scripture etc. To try to tidy up God's revelation into harmonious, systematic categories is to say that we know better than God and distorts the diverse revelation which he has gifted to us. To live in God we need to live with the creative tensions of his revelation instead of resolving it all to our liking.
This is the sermon that I preached at St Gabriel Aldersbrook and St Mary the Virgin Great Ilford this morning. The Gospel reading was Luke 12: 32-40. It was interesting to hear the engaged and knowlegable feedback from the two congregations. At St Gabriel's, a former City banker said that the sermon made a refreshing change while at St Mary's one post-service comment was to do with the way in which the self-sufficiency of villages in the two-thirds world has been compromised by the adoption of aspects of Western lifestyle.
I began with a quote from Thursday’s Times where a former Bank of England rate-setter, William Butler, now chief economist at the investment banking giant Citigroup, was quoted as saying that, “Effectively, UK consumption – household consumption, public consumption, or both – is going to have to take a decade-long holiday.”
“We lived beyond our means year after year,“ Butler said, “and the nation collectively has to consume less.” “This period of austerity is almost arithmetically necessary if we don’t want to go into national and indeed personal bankruptcy.”
The idea that we need, as individuals and as a nation, a period of austerity because we have lived beyond our means is one that surely has some resonance with Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading about the absolute non necessity of wealth and possessions in the light of the coming of the Son of Man and his kingdom.
“Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor,” are words that we have rationalised away from their plain meaning by arguing that Jesus’ disciples, to whom these words are addressed, were expecting his imminent return and therefore had no need money or possessions. We, we have argued, do not have that apocalyptic expectation and, therefore, while, not neglecting to give generously to others, also have a God-given imperative to provide for our families through our work and the income it provides.
What this has justified in the Western church, as we have reflected the culture around us more than we have the imperatives of the Gospel, has been the over consumption of which William Butler spoke. However, while the church in the West has often been complicit in our consumerist society, there have been key Christian voices who have stood for Gospel values and who have spoken out prophetically against the growth of consumerism in the West and its impact on the rest of the globe.
John V. Taylor, the former Bishop of Winchester, published in 1975 Enough is Enough, a book which kickstarted the simple lifestyle movement with its slogan of ‘Live simply, that others may simply live.’ More recently, Sam Norton, the Rector of Mersea Island, has regularly blogged about the coming impact of peak oil; the idea that the supply of oil has peaked leading to increased oil prices in future with consequent increases in the price of food, transport and utilities. All of which we are currently seeing occurring and which will, in time, necessitate changes to a simpler, more localised lifestyle than any of us in the West have experienced for many years.
Putting his predictions and perceptions in a Biblical framework, Norton argues that continual economic expansion and growth have become the equivalent of ‘god’ for Western economies and are a contemporary example of idolatry. Next month a group from St John’s Seven Kings plan to visit Mersea Island to hear more about peak oil and initiatives to transition from over consumption to a simpler lifestyle. If any of this strikes a chord, a good place to start is this book, The Transition Handbook, which shows how “the inevitable and profound changes ahead can have a positive outcome … [leading] to the rebirth of local communities, which will grow their own food, generate their own power, and build their own houses using local materials.”
The prophetic cry, from those like Taylor, Norton and others, for a greater simplicity of lifestyle, whether from moral choice or economic necessity, is one that has been effectively sidelined during past prosperity but is one that we, as church and culture, desperately need to hear as we face what is predicted to be a temporary period of austerity.
If we were to genuinely hear and respond to their cry for the abandonment of over consumption and the adoption on an ongoing basis of a simpler lifestyle then not only could we learn not to repeat the issues raised by our over consumption but we would be also be returning to the plain meaning of Jesus’ statement that we should use our wealth for the benefit of others.
Remember that this statement that, in the light of his coming kingdom, we should sell our belongings and give to the poor comes hot on the heels of Jesus’ story about the rich man who piled up his riches for himself without reckoning on the crisis of his imminent demise. Taylor and Norton, from different perspectives, are both arguing that, just like Jesus’ disciples, we too face a coming crisis which necessitates the adoption of a simpler lifestyle.
If we hear these prophetic cries, if we learn lessons from the over consumption of our Western prosperity, if we take on board the plain meaning of Jesus’ words then, with John V. Taylor, we will say that “enough is enough!” and will seek to turn a temporary period of austerity into a permanently simpler lifestyle; living simply that others may simply live.
Bit late in the day for a post on Rev but, as I've been commenting on other people's posts, here's one bringing my thoughts together.
Firstly, I don’t think, as some have suggested, that Adam Smallbone was portrayed as either a fanatic or a wimp. That has often been the stock portrayal of clergy on TV but this Rev certainly wasn't held up for ridicule. Instead much of the comedy in the series came from moments when Smallbone's experience and expectations of ministry were at odds and, in my experience at least, that seemed an authentic reflection on an aspect of being in ministry.
While some of the storylines weren't as sharply observed as could have been the case (Episode 2 in particular), Smallbone throughout has been a nuanced character oscillating humanly between faith and doubt, integrity and failure, and for me that aspect of his portrayal has been the secret to the success of the series.
For example, his “I'm tired of having to tell people what they want to hear all the time” in the final episode was something that I would guess most of us who are ordained think at some stage in our ministry. In the context of the story told in that final episode, this comment was then deliberately undercut by the writers in the denouement to the episode where Smallbone said exactly what his dying parishioner wanted and needed to hear and this was restorative both for the parishioner and himself.
When the Last Rites are given to someone who has requested them, the person receiving is being given what they want, expect and need. This doesn't mean, though, that there is a simple continuity between this action and Smallbone's earlier statement. What Smallbone surely learnt to acknowledge, as his vocation was reaffirmed by administering the Last Rites, was that there are situations where it absolutely the right thing to tell people what they want to hear (this being one of them) and that to do so is to be a channel for God's grace. Prior to this point he only thought negatively of telling people what they want to hear and condemned himself for doing so.
What he learnt to acknowledge (and this was, I think, often the resolution of many of the episodes) was that his expectations of what ministry is and can be have to continually be nuanced because grace can be received and shared in wholly unexpected ways. The weakness of the man became a means of grace, which I think is absolutely right both theologically and in terms of comedic resolution in this series.
Finally, in the context of the series, his statement was not a fully accurate description of what we actually saw Smallbone doing and saying. Much of the comedy in the series came from a number of significant moments in the series where he does not tell people what they want to hear.
The fact that he was portrayed as doing both - showing a lack of backbone and acting with integrity - and the reality that we saw both cut both ways at different times (i.e. sometimes grace came through weakness and sometimes through strength of character) is part of what leads me to say that he is a nuanced character oscillating humanly between faith and doubt, integrity and failure.
The prayers in each episode acted as key turning points in each narrative. They are one of the plot devices which mean that Smallbone could not be a social worker or government bureaucrat and the comedy remain wholly in place. Prayer was portrayed as reorienting him to his vocation and triggering the moments in the narratives when he either grew in faith or became a channel for grace.
It is in the nature of a sitcom that the central character be fallible. Were this not so, from where would the comedy derive? The success of this series was that we identified with Smallbone’s weaknesses and that these same weaknesses were revealed as vehicles for grace or growth.
The specific situation which the report seeks to address is that of asylum seekers who have genuinely chosen to follow the Christian faith once in the UK and then apply for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution. Having had their asylum application refused, they face being sent back to countries where it is not safe for them to practice their faith. Christian human rights organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Release International know it is often unsafe to return a practising Christian to an Islamic country let alone return an apostate (a convert to Christianity) to an Islamic country where conversion is illegal. Therefore, there are grave implications for returning asylum seekers who have converted to Christianity to countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The report concludes that, while recognising that the issue of faith testing is complex, there is room for improvement in the current system used to determine the genuineness of an appellant’s conversion. While recognising that objective questioning is used to determine the faith of an appellant, there are a number of problems with this system.
Firstly, many of the questions used cannot give a true representation of the appellant’s faith because they are: a) based on western Christian culture (e.g. ‘How do you cook a turkey for Christmas?’); b) insensitive to the particular type of Christianity that the appellant has been exposed to (e.g. asking a Pentecostal convert about Anglican liturgy); c) asking things which aren’t even in the Bible (e.g. such as knowing the names of the thieves crucified on the crosses alongside Jesus or the name of the forbidden fruit ).
Secondly, questions of this nature are insufficient to grasp the genuineness of an appellant’s faith. This can only be fully understood if the leader of the church which the appellant has been attending gives an account of their conversion and Christian faith. The church leader ought to be able to give evidence of a changed lifestyle and/or behaviour, an interest in the Bible and in sharing their faith with others.
Thirdly, country information used to determine whether it is safe for a practising Christian to be returned to countries where apostates are persecuted is often inaccurate.
Having had recent experience of supporting a parishioner who is in the situation addressed by this report, it seems to me that the issues identified in this report remain in the system as currently operated. I am therefore seeking ways and means by which there could be further lobbying of the Government on this issue.
Without doubt, the week’s headline news is the re/opening of a library in Seven Kings, 18 years after the closure of its Carnegie predecessor, now Ilford Preparatory School. It is located at 679 High Road- between Costcutter and Asha Jewellers.
The sun shone for the formal opening on Monday, with the ribbon cut by Council leader Cllr Keith Prince, cabinet member for leisure councillor Cllr Suzanne Nolan and our own Ali Hai, who bought along the original petition of over 3,000 names and reminded us all that its return was entirely attributable to the determination of local people to reclaim this facility.
First week user figures are looking good, with a reported 240 visitors in the first two days, giving us a figure that rivals a typical week’s throughput at Clayhall Library.
And that is not all. The library is open unusual hours, as befits its location here in Seven Kings, offering residents the first ever taste of Sunday opening from 1000-1400.
If you have not popped in already, please do so. If you are not yet a member, please join. And remember, basic services- including PC hire- are entirely free.
Seven Kings Lorry park
Our last update included reference to a planning application lodged for the lorry park, which we have followed up. This is from the borough itself for a temporary school site, for the John Barker Centre- a pupil referral unit for students excluded from mainstream education. The facility is currently based in portkabins at the edge of Cricklefields Sport Ground, half a mile away, and we are told the aim is to decant them for two years.
TASK is concerned at any challenge to the local preference for long term community use, and will be studying the plans carefully, having secured an extension to the consultation. We will also be picking this up at our TASK monthly supporters session on Monday August 2 from 7-8pm at St.John’s Church.
This is a new initiative designed to help involve more supporters get involved planning and moving forward our campaign activity. It is very informal, and particularly welcomes new faces. Our focus this month will be on agreeing goals for this autumn, and taking up an offer from the police to get involved in our local Seven Kings police panel.
Area Committee 5
Some of us attended area committee 5 on Monday 26 July, at which we:
advocated tighter regulation of the local rented market, with clear landlord contacts for tenants and neighbours concerned about aspects of that renting;
heard a brilliant presentation from our friends in the Seven Kings and Newbury Residents’ Association, feeding back on a recent walkabout project designed to improve the appeal of the local environment. It came with lots of good, simple ideas like introducing street art in dull walled areas, planting a community garden at St.Johns’s and working with residents to tidy up the often neglected gardens on Aldborough Road South;
agreed to do some more work on protecting the character of Edwardian properties near Goodmayes Park by way of declaring it a ‘residential village’.
Community Festival: Sunday September 26
This will be our second Council sponsored community festival, held on the Barley Lane Recreation Ground, opposite TESCO. It runs from 12 noon until 4pm and will include information stalls, kids’ activities, food and live music, with an art exhibition happening in the neighbouring St.Paul’s Church.
TASK will be taking a stall to spread the word about us, and to sign up even more supporters, but we need volunteers to staff it so do please offer us an hour of your time on a fun day out. Email Chris on firstname.lastname@example.org please with offers.
That is it for now. More mid- month. Enjoy the sun.